Katherine Martinelli: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Kei Hasegawa: I had a part time job in a restaurant as a chef and one day I had to make a birthday cake but I didn’t have any idea. I finished the cake and I was like I need to make it more special, and that was my first step. I started to learn pastry more.
KM: When did you come to the US?
KH: In 2005, almost five years ago. Before coming to the US, I worked in a Japanese restaurant in Japan for eight years as the pastry chef. I did all of the pastry. I made macaroons every morning. I made a lot of bread, cake, and small pastries.
KM: Did you go to culinary school? Would you recommend it school to aspiring cooks?
KH: I did not go. Personally, I do not recommend going to [culinary] school because work experience is [better]. There is a good point for going to school, but I don’t recommend it so much. If you have a really strong passion, I don’t think you need to go to school. That’s my opinion.
KM: What advice would you give to young pastry chefs just getting started?
KH: Have a really, really strong passion for pastry and working in kitchens because what we’re doing is just a job and if you don’t have a really strong passion it’s hard to work in a kitchen. Honestly, working in a kitchen is a really hard job, you have to carry heavy things and work long days, so you need a strong passion and strong dream of what you need in the future.
KM: Is there an ingredient that you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
KH: Kinako [Japanese soy bean flour]. It’s a really famous ingredient in Japanese pastry so I try to put it in my pastry. Kinako and cream is a really great combination. Some people say the taste of kinako is like peanut butter. I always try to use Japanese ingredients, but everyone knows about green tea already. I'm always looking for the next ingredients. My desserts aren't too sweet. I try to make them right in sweetness.
KM: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
KH: Lavender and white chocolate.
KM: What is your pastry philosophy?
KH: I don’t have a special philosophy, but I really want to make really good dessert, just tasty. So for me in a dessert or pastry taste is very important. The best taste is most important for me over decoration.
KM: Who have been your mentors? What have you learned from them?
KH: For me the old pastry chefs I used to work for are all mentors. One is Gabriele Riva from Nobu 57. There is one Japanese pastry chef Masao Sujimaki. They taught me everything about pastry, for the attitude, that kind of thing.
KM: What are your tips for pastry success?
KH: I would say definitely have a strong passion—you need a strong passion for pastry—and hard work. And keep continuing, don’t give up.
KM: If you weren’t a pastry chef what do you think you’d be doing?
KH: A musician, playing pop music. I used to play the piano and guitar. Definitely something creative.
KM: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
KH: First of all I would like to see Sashi restaurant getting big and I want to make more good pastry over there and have a strong team there in five years. After that I want to open a pastry shop, hopefully in LA.